Village of Indiantown to receive $1.5 million to remain in the Martin County Fire-Rescue MSTU five more years

INDIANTOWN – The Village Council here voted unanimously May 27 to accept Martin County’s offer of $1.5 million in federal stimulus funding in exchange for remaining in the county’s Fire-Rescue Municipal Service Taxing Unit for at least five more years.

The Village Council has toyed seriously with the idea of separating from the Fire-Rescue MSTU for the last several months at the behest of Village Manager Howard Brown who hired a consultant to analyze the cost of creating an independent fire-rescue and emergency medical services department. Both he and Indiantown Mayor Janet Hernandez addressed the County Commission during public comment April 13, with the latter bemoaning the fact the Village’s current $5.3 million MSTU bill exceeded its entire fiscal year budget. After the two spoke, County Administrator Taryn Kryzda told commissioners he’d managed to trim $500,000 off that cost but the effort failed to satisfy the pair.

“It was communicated back to me that was not enough and that they were looking for about three times that,” she said April 13.

Since that time, Ms. Kryzda and other county staff cobbled together a plan offering Indiantown $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan of 2021 as long as the town earmarked the funds for rehabbing the municipality’s water system acquired last year. She described the latest offer during the May 25 County Commission meeting as a vehicle in which to both keep Indiantown in the MSTU and improve fire-flow services for planned future growth in the unincorporated area of the county as well.

“That would enhance our ability to provide fire and rescue services to those residents or businesses and particularly the industrial areas,” she said. “Our thought process for having the funding predicated on a five-year interlocal agreement was for the Village to remain in the MSTU [and] was based upon our five-year capital improvement plan. Currently we have some planned developments in the western area, and we’re actively pursuing our possible expansion of Fire-Rescue services to serve those areas.”

Ms. Kryzda proposed the offer as a 50/50 matching grant that the Village would dedicate to its utility’s loop system while acknowledging the fact Mr. Brown was still asking for $2.5 million as of May 17. The Village manager also insists on monthly updates on service call data from Fire-Station 24 that services the community, quarterly Fire-Rescue presentations to the Council and revising the deed restrictions on the Booker Park and Big Mount Park properties that the county deeded to the Village upon its incorporation.

Commissioner Sarah Heard immediately questioned the need for the latter and asked for clarification.

“I remember when we decided to donate the deeds for Big Mound and Booker Park sites that those would remain for public use or recreational use,” she said. “So, what kind of changes are they proposing that would deviate from that? I’m adamant that those uses have to remain for the public.”

County Attorney Sarah Woods attempted to answer that question but admitted the request submitted by the Village had been vague.

“It’s very difficult for me to answer that directly because they’ve been less than definitive about what they wanted to do,” she said. “I pointed out to their village manager and the village attorney that their current Council members agreed in an interlocal agreement that those particular properties would be used as parks and recreational facilities. I’ll be honest It’s very, very broad and very different from what you all agreed with the Council members.”

At the onset of the Village Council meeting a couple days later, two residents urged its members to accept the offer even though a fire-rescue discussion was not listed on that evening’s agenda. Village Clerk Susan Owens read a letter from one of them, Linda Nycum, who expressed dismay that the Council had not scheduled the matter for debate.

“You all have a very important decision to make,” she wrote. “You have listened and heard your residents [and] had a response from Martin County on your counter offer. I do not see any other reasons for delaying a decision [that will] take away the anxiety, fear and anger that is prevalent in Indiantown these days. If you all will put us in your decision and acknowledge that you hear what we the voters want you to do, then you will make the right decision for all of Indiantown.”

Indiantown businessman Brian Powers concurred.

“There’s no reason you can’t look at this as a win,” he said. “Five years isn’t really going to kill anybody: It’s really four years because you’re going to evaluate this again. Look at the data you’re going to have that you didn’t have this time to make a decision. I think there’s all kinds of opportunities to get the water system fixed – you’re going to have money to do that. I urge you to consider it tonight and put it to bed so everybody can get to work on everything else that’s really important.”

Mr. Powers subsequently offered Council members a suggestion to help recruit and train local firefighters for the future should the Village eventually proceed with the idea of starting its own department.

“It’s been a long time since anyone from Indiantown has become part of Fire-Rescue,” he said. “What if we had some scholarships, and we got two people a year? Think about where you’d be four years from now if we did that: You’d have eight firefighters that were committed to working in Indiantown when this decision comes up again,”

During Council comments that immediately followed, Councilman Anthony Dowling reminded his fellow Board members that debate over fire-rescue services had begun even prior to the Village incorporating on the last day of 2017.

“Over the past four years, we have made some tremendous and huge moves that affect our community in a great way,” he said. “So listening to the Board of County Commissioners’ conversations over the past few weeks, I just wanted to thank them for presenting their last offer at the meeting, and specifically to Commissioner Jenkins for directing staff to create a written offer so we can figure out what we can do as the Village of Indiantown. In the spirit of unity and making sure we are moving forward as a municipality, I wanted to make a motion to accept the offer of the $1.5 million grant from the county for the American Rescue Plan.”

Councilwoman Susan Gibbs-Thomas seconded the motion, which also included monthly reports on Fire Station #24, quarterly presentations by Martin County Fire-Rescue personnel and the revision of the deed restriction on the Booker Park and Big Mound properties, although Council members may not have known of the county’s last-minute refusal to accept that revision.

The motion then passed unanimously.

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